Personal PensionNov 12 2015

Adviser hits back at Phoenix Life’s pension scam claim

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Adviser hits back at Phoenix Life’s pension scam claim

An adviser has branded Phoenix Life as “offensive” after the provider refused to supply him with information about a client’s pension scheme and told FTAdviser his company has links to a pensions liberation firm.

Jim Bell, director at Serenus Consulting, got his client to sign a letter of authority, which was then submitted to Phoenix Life with a request for ‘Information Only’ about the pension scheme.

He also asked for transfer discharge forms.

In a complaint he made to the FCA about the way his request for information was handled by Phoenix Life, Mr Bell said: “This is the normal everyday practice for a regulated IFA to be able to provide financial advice.

“We are going to look at the client’s pension to determine if it is suitable and if not look to transfer to a more suitable option. You would think this was very simple.

Mr Bell said he was “stunned” to receive a reply from Phoenix Life late last month that refused to offer the information requested or transfer forms.

The letter he received from Phoenix Life stated: “We are unable to provide the information requested due to the risk of pension scams and pension scam fraud.

“We have concerns that HMRC may subsequently determine that any transfer is not recognised.”

Mr Bell told the FCA: “I find this truly offensive and [it] is a reflection on the state of the UK pension market where a company like Phoenix Life can accuse a fully licenced FCA company like mine of being fraudulent.

“I am afraid to say this is now such a common tactic that the pension industry is grinding to a halt.”

When FTAdviser asked Phoenix Life for a comment on the matter, a spokesperson for the provider said Mr Bell’s request generated a red flag against the Code of Good Practice checks for Pension Scams as “Serenus has links to [...] a well-documented pensions liberation firm.

“The code was put together by people across the industry including providers, law enforcement and the Regulators and most providers use it.”

The spokesperson added Mr Bell should be asked to contact Phoenix if he “has concerns about being linked to [the firm] or that this association is an error.”

Phoenix Life referred FTAdviser to a Retirement Guide blog and a Pensions Ombudsman decision in regards to the alleged association but those documents make no mention of Serenus Consulting or Mr Bell.

Mr Bell said he is in no way affiliated with either the company or individuals mentioned in the documents sent across by Phoenix Life.

Mr Bell said: “I can categorically state that I have no involvement nor have I ever even heard of [such] a company.

“If Phoenix Life suspects otherwise then rather then send me a refusal letter with no explanation, they could have raised this concern and why they have it.

“It is possible in the industry today that someone has falsified an association with my company to try to pass themselves off as regulated, especially with the new requirements to have a FCA regulated IFA sign off on all safeguarded transfers.

“If this is the case then I would have expected Phoenix Life to raise this with me and this would have been very helpful in the industry fight against pensions liberation. I could have stopped this falsification further if it is going on.

“Instead they just refused to acknowledge my request to give my client advice.”

When FTAdviser informed Phoenix Life that Mr Bell disagrees with their claim, a spokesman for the life company said: “As I mentioned before, we reviewed this case and it raised a number of concerns regarding fraud.

“The FCA itself flags that even if a company is registered as an IFA firm, or is not listed on their watch list for fraud, this does not mean there is no risk of a scam.

“We have made Mr Bell aware through communications to him that we had concerns about this issue and he has not asked for the explicit reasons behind this.

“We are happy to explain this to him if he contacts us directly but clearly this is a sensitive issue which we do not think is appropriate to discuss via a third party.”

Mr Bell made an official complaint about Phoenix Life to the FCA on the 28 October, which argued the firm was denying his client fundamental rights to take pensions advice from a qualified individual.

The FCA said in a response to his complaint: “As you’ll be aware, we do regulate Phoenix Life. So, I can assure you that I’ve passed your email to our relevant supervisory area that monitors the firm in question, for their consideration.

“I’m unable to comment specifically about how we may use the information you’ve kindly given us, as we’re prevented from doing so by confidentiality restrictions under section 348 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA).

“I can assure you that your information will be carefully considered before any appropriate decision is taken.”

Mr Bell has been an independent financial adviser since 2008.

Prior to that he worked in Standard Life’s consultant actuary division for five years and prior to that Barclays Corporate Pensions for three years.